RCAS Presents Opera Magic: Tchaikovsky meets Pushkin, Highlights from Eugene Onegin

A remarkable event took place at the Maison Francaise of the Embassy of France in the opening Gala Night performance of the 2016-2017 concert season of the Russian Chamber Arts Society.
 
When Madame Vera Danchenko-Stern, Founder and Artistic Director of the RCAS, dramatically invoked the names of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin in her introductory remarks, there was electricity in the air in anticipation of what was to follow: “Opera Magic: Tchaikovsky meets Pushkin, Highlights from Eugene Onegin.”
 
Soprano Yana Eminova’s breathtaking opening notes pierced the air following Vera Danchenko-Stern’s flawless prelude, giving sway to an outpouring of beautiful and passionate Tchaikovsky melodies that told the story of impassioned love, betrayal and regret. Playing the role of Tatyana, Eminova was joined by Mezzo-Soprano Magdalena Wor as Olga in the first scene, in a rich and mellifluous blending of their voices.
 
Eugene Onegin, a novel by Pushkin, tells a story of an arrogant nobleman played by the great baritone Timothy Mix, who rejects the affections of the young Tatyana. With great deception, Onegin attempts to seduce Tatyana’s sister Olga who is also the fiancé of his best friend Lensky, played by the tenor Timur. The series of vignettes that follow lead to Lensky’s death as he duels Onegin to avenge his betrayal. Onegin’s remorse of the death of his friend drives him to leave the country only to return years later to find that Tatyana is married and a grand lady of society. Realizing his loss, he attempts to persuade Tatyana to leave her husband, which she refuses, despite her feelings of affection towards him. The story ends tragically, as Onegin expresses his sorrow for his unfulfilled life.

As Vera-Danchenko so well stated, “The story is timeless, because love is timeless, with all its twists and turns. As we know, life is stranger than fiction. What if Onegin had recognized Tatyana’s love for him in time. All these ifs….. Tchaikovsky and Pushkin in one love story.”
 
The opera is elevated into a dramatic story through the eloquence of Pushkin’s story line narrated by the great artistic skills of actor Rick Foucheux and by Tchaikovsky’s beautiful melodies interpreted by the remarkably talented singers. As the Eugene Onegin novel was well known at the time, the opera is episodic and relies heavily on the audience’s knowledge of the plot.
 
The wonder of this concert production of the Russian Chamber Art Society is that it captured the feeling of a grand opera performance within the limits of the small stage. The soulful voice of Magdalena Wor as Olga was spellbinding, especially in her duet performance with the Kazakh-American tenor Timur as Lensky, who passionately expressed his love with a full and captivating voice. Baritone Timothy Mix as Onegin, demonstrated his usual command of the Russian language and remarkable dramatic vocal skills.
 
Pianists Vera Danchenko-Stern and Genadi Zagor were a tour de force in their accompaniments. Danchenko-Stern, the unfailing piano lyricist, conveyed a beautiful warm tonal quality as Zagor electrified the audience with his dramatic performance. Both were equally virtuosic.

Mary Kruger, President of the RCAS, welcomed the audience and expressed the appreciation for the support of the newly arrived cultural attaché, Julie Le Saos, and the director of La Maison Francaise, Marie-Helene Zavala, “who helped in every step of the way.” Ms. Kruger also thanked the generous contribution of Susan Carmel, founder of the Carmel Institute for Russian Culture and History at American University, and Dr. Dan Davidson, President of the American Council for International Education.
 
Dr. Dan Davidson, lifelong scholar of Russian culture, gave introductory remarks quoting from Tolstoy who defined art “as one of the most basic and highest forms of communication amongst human beings.” He emphasized, “The work of the RCAS is immensely important, especially now” given the tenor of political relations in the world we live in. Dr. Davidson also spoke of the “visionary and energetic leadership of Vera Danchenko-Stern, [who] is contributing greatly to raising American awareness of all the spheres of the Russian musical world.” He added that “Vera has raised the bar” from previous years’ performances as she has undertaken to present the masterpiece of Eugene Onegin. 
 
Vera Danchenko-Stern acknowledged the support of her Board of Directors and John Hauge, Board President Emeritus. ‘Without them this evening would never be possible.” 
 
Once again the RCAS has surpassed expectations.

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